I finally saw Midsommar about a week ago and I am here to tell you that it is, in fact, the feel good movie of the summer.
The movie is about a woman named Dani who, after her family is killed in what seems to be a murder suicide, goes on an educational trip to Sweden with her boyfriend Christian and his grad school friends. Christian, like most men, is a hunk of trash. His behavior ranges from dismissive asshole to full on emotional abuse. As a DV survivor it was physically painful to see Dani apologize for having feelings, for asking to be seen by her partner, for being upset that he forgot her fucking birthday.
In relationships with his friends, Christian is equally manipulative. First, let me say, in the beginning it seems as though none of Christian’s friends like Dani either. One particular friend that has the eyebrows of an evil clown constantly calls her crazy and insists she needs a therapist, even though she already has one. In the first scene where we see Christian and his friends together, we’re made to believe that he’s just a sensitive guy trying to get out of a relationship he’s unhappy in. At a bar with his friends, they direct him to break up with Dani and spend their Swedish getaway fucking milk maids. The crew decides on Sweden because one of the guys, Pelle, is from a small village there and wants to take his friends back for the annual Midsommar festivities held by his community, the Hårga. Christian, lacking the emotional intelligence and empathy to have a real conversation with anyone in his life, solves the problem of his relationship by inviting Dani on the trip— much to the chagrin of his boys.
One thing that is made painfully clear throughout the movie is that Dani has some sort of panic or anxiety disorder. She takes medication at one point in the first act. She paces and stammers over her words, ringing her hands when she has to talk to Christian about anything. The trip to Sweden starts off with her refusing mushrooms because she needs to feel “settled” first (i.e. hallucinogenics and anxiety disorders aren’t the best mix). Pressured by Christian’s cohort of dicks, Dani caves, and goes on a pretty gnarly trip filled with flashbacks of her dead family and hallucinations of being laughed at by beautiful blonde mountain dwellers.
This brings me to cinematography and the score. The drug use sequences in this movie are out of this world. My favorite shots are of high-Dani with grass growing out of her hands or feet. The people surrounding her are panic inducing and completely dismissive of her needs, but in those moments, nature is growing inside her, through her. Her breath also becomes a part of the soundtrack, slow and coarse, it rings through our ears and Dani’s. The score is perfectly matched with these scenes. I’m listening now and listen to it almost everyday. As they drive into Halsingland, the camera does slow, sweeping turns and flips, moving with the almost mechanic moans of the track by the same name. When Dani goes on her bad trip, the music turns frantic, sharp and cutting strings that seem to have no direction but take you to a very precise place.
My favorite track from the score is The House That Harga Built. It plays as the group enters this pristine village with emerald greens, crystalline blues, and the most electric yellow you’ve ever seen. With the exception of one of Christian’s friends, Josh, and two french students named Connie and Simon, everyone is white with light blonde or soft red hair. It’s a beautiful nightmare. When you see that many white people you know they can be up to no good.
Without droning on too long, things start to get dark when a suicide ritual takes place. The villages oldest members, a man and woman aged 72, must kill themselves to keep the youth and activity alive. No one dies sick and suffering in this village, they take their own lives when they still have wits and vitality. This act is countered by a young girl finding a lover and commencing in a mating ritual that requires a love potion. What’s in that love potion? Glad you asked: a little lemon, some foraged herbs, water, and menstrual blood. To seal the deal, make your beau a pot pie with a sprinkle of pubic hair. In the film, Pelle’s little sister Maja sets her sights on WHO ELSE but local dud Christian.
While all this happens, Dani is off getting to know the village women and is crowned May Queen. Josh is trying to get the secrets of the village on camera and is promptly murdered in a brutal scene for it. Mr. Eyebrows aka Mark goes off to hook up with a girl he can barely look at because he’s such a dweeb and is not seen again until they end of the movie. Dani, however, is living her best life. She’s finally coming to understand her own strength, and deal with the pain of losing her family without looking to Christian for love and support he cannot give. In one of the movies most quotable moments, Dani cries on the bed wanting to go home after people have turned up missing and the suicide ritual naturally scares her. Pelle comes to her aid and puts his arms around her, he asks of Christian:
“Do you feel held by him? Does he feel like home to you?”
The May Queen ceremony sees Dani taking a head seat at the table, and conversely, taking the front seat in her own life. It isn’t until she catches Christian engaging in a sexual ceremony with Maja that her world unsettles itself again. Once Christian has done the deed and supposedly impregnated Maja, he is pretty much useless. He runs off holding his dick like a scared little bitch and begins to find body after body of his disappeared cohorts. Christian is caught and drugged, and he opens his eyes to see the Hårga, and the truth of this whole trip: Pelle and his brother have volunteered to bring back human sacrifices for the future of their people. The breakdown is: four of the villages own, four outsiders (Josh, Mark, Connie, and Simon) and two specially picked from a draw. The first one drawn is some guy who doesn’t matter from the village. The second is….you guessed it, our boy Christian. And Dani makes the decision.
Christian gets sewn into a fucking bear and is placed in the stunning yellow shack with the drained and de-boned bodies of his friends. They have been turned into dolls of sorts, some stuffed with flowers and hay, others just bags of skin. Dani, as May Queen, watches clad in all her floral glory, crying with grief at her loss and possibly the guilt of sacrificing the person she’d spent so much time willing to love her. Dani watches as the shack is burned to the ground, and everyone in it burns as well. The last scene is our May Queen with a wry smile on her face, finally free.
I think, at it’s core, Midsommar is about finding home. Dani starts the movie with a devastating loss. Both her parents and her sister are killed after her sister gasses the house. Her home is now a crime scene, the people she called home dead. Naturally, she leans on the next closest person to her, her boyfriend, a man that at every turn is trying to find a way to leave her. Actually, no. Christian never tries to leave Dani, he leads her on and makes a misery of her life. After her family is found dead, he limply holds her as she wails, his face expressionless and hard. There is never any love present for her from him. She is a tool, just as his friends are tools. He gets a cool trip to Sweden, steals his friends dissertation topic because he doesn’t have enough discipline to find his own. The tables are truly turned for him when Maja sets her sights on him. He is now the tool, serving the need of impregnating her and continuing to the grow the population of this remote little village. Christian who has spent so much time lamenting how emotionally Dani is and how he just wants out, now gets an out through dead-eyed Maja.
Pelle is Dani’s first taste of care, and while he does it in a twisted, murderous way, he still sees her in suffering and offers a hand. He remembers her birthday and nudges her shitty boyfriend to get her cake, he draws a lovely portrait of her, he really sees her. Far be it from my nature to praise anything a man does, but Pelle is either a renaissance man or a murderous mastermind. But back to the real star: not only does Dani break away from abuse, she begins to allow herself to feel her emotions full force without cycling into self-blame and degradation. In stark contrast to the beginning of the film where she rants on the phone to a friend about how she is “too much” and Christian will leave her because her feelings are too big, Dani finds him cheating on her and falls to the floor wailing in pain. Instead of being weakly held, she is surrounded by the woman of the village who scream with her. The mirror her grief and echo it back to her, the sound of other voices communing with her own makes it more real, more valid. When she is crowned as the May Queen, she is adorned with bright flowers, met with sweet and passionate kisses, whisked away into brightness. She gets to feel joy. The drugs are still in her system but she is no longer panicking, she feels a oneness with something greater than her: community.
Dani, who has spent the first two hours of the movie groveling and looking to get even an once of attention from her boyfriend, is crowned and hailed. With startling determination and finality, she sends him to a painful death. She was the only one in the group besides Pelle that knew something wasn’t quite right the whole time. Josh, who was doing a goddamn dissertation on these people, somehow missed that sacrifice is a part of their culture. Eyebrows is too busy talking a lot of game about bedding women but skimpering away from eye contact with any of them. Christian is just a sociopath. Dani has a watchful eye and sees things going on that others miss, ask questions, and seamlessly dives into this foreign culture enough to make her way out alive. Even without Pelle’s adoration, a newly single Dani can now stand in her power. We stan a resourceful queen! It truly is a Hot Girl Summer, City Boys will not recover.
This movie was visually stunning, haunting, and gleefully wonderful. I walked away and fell more in love as I talked and thought about it. I think I’m becoming a major Ari Aster fan and I can’t wait to see what he does next.
My buddy ki11erpancake did a very sweet illustration of me as the May Queen that I’ll add to this post. Follow the link to view her work!